Sri Lanka - Page 2

Sri Lanka: Karannagoda Report — A Flawed Investigation?


by Our Defence Affairs Editor

The measure of a man is what he does with power. – Plato

The concept of a state is a crucial component of modern society. A state is essentially a structure that is based on a chain of command. This chain of command is what provides the state with its ability to function, as it enables those in positions of power to issue commands that are then carried out by those below them in the hierarchy. The strength of this structure is therefore essential to the success of the state, and any weakness in the chain of command can ultimately lead to the state becoming fragile.

Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka, many people do not understand the difference between the state and the government. The government is a temporary body that is elected by the people to govern the state for a certain period of time. Those who are elected are bound to fulfil the public aspirations, but in Sri Lanka, this relationship between the state and the government has become increasingly blurred.

This issue has been highlighted in the recent inquiry report into whether there was any lapse on the part of State Intelligence, Police, and the Armed Forces during the massive anti-government public protest on May 9th 2022 which eventually kicked out the elected president for the first time in history. Strangely, only 65 witnesses were summoned by the committee to have evidence on such a landmark incident. However, the report was issued by a committee comprising former tri-forces commanders and was headed by Sri Lanka’s first-ever Admiral of the Fleet, Wasantha Karannagoda. The 17-page report was first handed over to the President at the end of last year and was later submitted to the Appeal Court on February 23rd. However, the head of the committee, Karannagoda, made a strange move by submitting the report himself to the Appeal Court. Later, a selected number of pages were leaked to the media by an “unknown” party, but the essence of the report has yet to be made public. From what has been reported, the report openly alleges that the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) who was then the Army Commander, General Shavendra Silva, had abandoned his responsibilities, which had caused chaos during the protest. Instead of highlighting the overall shortcomings of the whole incident, the focus of the report has been directed towards CDS as the main target.

As mentioned above, this case study is an exemplary one that highlights the importance of understanding the difference between the state and the government. It also highlights the need for state workers to exercise their duties without taking political bias decisions. The state and the government have different functions, and it is crucial that those in positions of power understand this. The government may be temporary, but the state is a permanent fixture in society.

In addition to criticizing the behaviour of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), the report also pointed out the behaviour of the Secretary of Defense. However, the Board’s handling of the legal procedures that should have been followed by law enforcement agencies during the public protest has been largely ignored. This has led to criticism of the report for singling out the Secretary of Defense, while largely ignoring the responsibilities of the Secretary to the Law and Order Ministry. It is the Inspector General of Police who should be responsible for requesting the Secretary of Law and Order to deploy the army with the authorization of the Secretary of Defense when the police are unable to handle the situation. We don’t understand how the inquiry board came to the conclusion that CDS has been empowered with such power.  Therefore, the responsibilities of the Board should have been to investigate the nuances of the series of incidents without targeting selected individuals for whatever reasons.

When public outrage erupts against the government, it is the government’s responsibility to address the seriousness of the situation and punish the perpetrators who are responsible for plundering public assets. However, this inquiry report has been criticized for showing indifference to the wrongdoings of legislators within the government while attempting to silence and undermine the voices of the public. This is not only irrational, but it is also a sign of deliberate ignorance of the fundamentals of governance. Despite the report elaborating on the root causes behind the public outrage against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, which was unfortunately hijacked by certain political parties later, the commission has pathetically tried to whitewash the injustices of those who first instigate the violence by humiliating the defence apparatus. This has led to further criticism of the report and the Board’s handling of the investigation.

The important issue that has arisen in relation to this inquiry report is the credibility of the report itself. The fact that the report was headed by a person who was arraigned by the court of law for allegedly abducting and killing 11 innocents for ransoms has raised serious questions about the report’s credibility.  The person in question, Admiral of the Fleet Wasantha Karannagoda, was implicated in the abduction and killing of 11 young men during the final stages of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The case is still ongoing, and Admiral Karannagoda has been accused of interfering in the case and intimidating witnesses. Given this background, it is reasonable to question whether Admiral Karannagoda was the appropriate person to lead an investigation into the conduct of the state intelligence, police, and armed forces during the May 2022 public protest.

The fact that only selected pages of the report were leaked to the media has also raised further questions about the report’s credibility. Without access to the full report, it is difficult to determine whether the leaked pages accurately represent the findings of the inquiry. Furthermore, the leak of selected pages has created the impression that certain individuals or groups may be trying to manipulate the narrative to suit their own interests.

It’s possible that someone is scheming against CDS General Shavendra Silva by defaming him, especially since he has taken some controversial actions that have challenged the status quo. As Woodrow Wilson said, “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” Silva’s actions, including his leadership during the final phase of the Sri Lankan Civil War and his involvement in various post-war initiatives, have made him a polarizing figure. While some may appreciate his efforts to bring about change, others may view his actions as threatening to their interests. Nevertheless, it’s important to evaluate any accusations against him objectively and without bias, to ensure that justice is served fairly and impartially.

As Jesus once said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” The holy words of the son of the Lord highlight the idea that none of us is without fault, and that we should approach others with humility and compassion, rather than judgement and condemnation. This sentiment is particularly relevant in the context of the inquiry report being discussed, which is facing questions of credibility and impartiality. While some may be quick to criticize and assign blame, it’s important to remember that none of us is perfect and that everyone is capable of making mistakes. Rather than casting stones, we should strive to approach this issue with a spirit of understanding and a desire to uncover the truth, without allowing political biases or personal agendas to cloud our judgement. Only by approaching this issue with humility and an open mind can we hope to achieve a fair and just outcome.

Sagala at 55: Navigating Complexity of Social Upheaval in Sri Lanka


by Our Political Affairs Editor

“The price of greatness is responsibility.” – Winston Churchill

Today, February 27th, Sagala Gajendra Ratnayaka celebrated his 55th birthday. As a Senior Advisor to the President on National Security and Chief of Staff to President Wickremesinghe, he is a man of commitment and dedication, hailed from the deep South of Deniyaya and was educated at Royal College Colombo. Before entering politics, he had a career in banking following his completion of an Economics degree from Lewis & Clark College in the USA. But Ratnayaka is not just any politician; he is a rare kind of politician who stands out in a sea of politicians who play the race card, are more interested in pandering to the public, and manoeuvre the country towards bankruptcy.

Sagala Ratnayaka is not a pseudo-nationalist; rather, he is an internationalist who tries his best to think outside of the box. He does not play racial elements to climb up to power. Instead, he is a politician who understands the importance of building a united and prosperous Sri Lanka. He is not a usual actor who cuddles infants in front of the public for photo opportunities, but someone who works tirelessly behind the scenes to navigate the country out of national calamities. He is a navigator who has the ability, courage, and skill to transform the country for a better future.

In today’s political climate, it is rare to find politicians who have a genuine interest in the well-being of the country and its people. Ratnayaka is one such politician. He understands the tribulations facing the country and is working hard to find solutions. His dedication to his work is admirable, and he has proven himself to be a man of integrity.

Sagala Ratnayaka’s journey from banking to politics is a testimony to his commitment to the people of Sri Lanka. He realized that he could use his knowledge and expertise to make a difference in the lives of the people. His willingness to put his skills to work for the betterment of the country is a reflection of his selflessness.

In times of social upheavals, it is crucial to have politicians like him who work silently for the betterment of the country as the country needs leaders who can navigate these challenges and come up with sustainable solutions.  His ability to work silently for the betterment of the country is a quality that is much needed in today’s political climate. Often, politicians are more concerned with their public image and how they are perceived by the public. This leads to a lack of action and solutions to the problems facing the country. Sagala, on the other hand, focuses on finding solutions to problems, regardless of whether or not it benefits his public image.

Furthermore, Sagala’s dedication to his work and his commitment to the country are qualities that inspire trust and confidence in the people. His work ethic and his ability to navigate the country through difficult times have made him a respected figure in Sri Lankan politics. His contributions to the country have not gone unnoticed, and he is seen as a valuable asset to the country.

Sagala’s success as the Senior Advisor to the President on National Security and Chief of Staff to President Wickremesinghe is not only due to his dedication and commitment to the country but also his thoroughness as a reader and keen observation skills. These qualities have enabled him to stay informed and aware of the events and people that shape Sri Lankan society, politics, and economy. In this turbulent time, he navigates the country’s top forces and intelligence agencies towards new dimensions where national security strengthens and social order is maintained. His focus on economic revival as a means of keeping social order intact is a testament to his ability to think strategically and address multiple challenges facing the country simultaneously.

Sagala’s ability to navigate complex issues, his dedication to the country, his thoroughness as a reader, and his keen observation skills make him an exemplary leader who Sri Lanka needs. His contributions to the country and his efforts to strengthen national security and revive the economy should be celebrated and recognized on his birthday.

To conclude, Sagala Ratnayaka is a unique politician possessing qualities essential for tackling the obstacles confronting Sri Lanka. His astute awareness of events and people, unwavering commitment to the nation, and strategic mindset exemplify his leadership abilities. As he celebrates his 55th birthday, let us extend our warmest wishes and continue to acknowledge and endorse his contributions to Sri Lanka. His noteworthy accomplishments warrant our recognition and appreciation, and it’s incumbent upon us to create a conducive environment for more politicians like him to thrive.

Sri Lanka: Taxing Times


“…we emphasise that we won’t hesitate at all to unite with all health workers and take tough measures which can paralyse the entire hospital system against this unfair wage cut.”

Statement by the GMOA (23.2.2023)

Sri Lanka’s poorest of the poor, their lives devastated by economic collapse, may face a killer blow soon: a crippling of the public health system.

That GMOA is planning to ‘paralyse the entire hospital system’ in protest against a government decision to institute a ‘wage cut’. Needless to say, ‘the hospital system’ they are planning to paralyse is the public one, used by those Lankans who constitute the bottommost layers of the income totem pole. The fee-levying private health care system, used by middle and upper layers of society, including politicians, will function smoothly. The very doctors who refuse to treat patients in government hospitals will attend to their private practices with usual assiduity.

Hippocrates and our own physician-king Buddhadasa, who, according to legend, stopped a royal progress to treat a sick cobra, would turn in their graves at the conduct of these medical merchants.

We excoriate politicians, and rightly so, for their unconscionable and irresponsible conduct, for their greed and their willingness to risk the safety and wellbeing of citizens who sustain them. Are the doctors, who threaten to hold the poorest of the poor hostage to win a wage demand, any better?  

The UNP president and the SLPP government will probably condemn the doctors’ strike because they are in power. Had they been in opposition, they wouldn’t have.

Will the SJB, the JVP, and sundry opposition parties have the moral and political courage to ask the doctors not to penalise the already pulverised poor in order to win a wage demand? Will Sajith Premadasa, Anura Kumara Dissanayake or Dulles Alahapperuma possess the decency to tell the doctors to find another weapon to attack the government with?

The doctors’ demand may be just. But their tactic is supremely unjust. Weaponizing poor patients is heartless and malicious at any time, doubly so in the midst of a calamitous economic crisis. The strike won’t hurt politicians. It will hurt the fiscally impoverished 36% of the population who are missing meals and missing school, the 600,000 families who might lose access to power thanks to the recent electricity hike. The very people, who through indirect taxes, helped fund the medical education of these doctors. 

When President Gotabaya and PM Mahinda Rajapaksa reduced health expenditure in the midst of a pandemic, the GMOA doctors remained mute. They were too busy enjoying the rich fruits of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s 2019 tax cut, the first step in Sri Lanka’s fast-track to bankruptcy. The GMOA bosses were probably among those who whispered sweet lies about tax cuts and instant growth into the ignorant ears of the former Lt. Colonel.

In Sri Lanka’s avoidable tragedy, the only bad guys are not the politicians. The rot in the political class is a reflection of a widespread and deep-going societal malaise. The politicians are the most culpable. But none of us voting age citizens are completely innocent. If any solution is to work, if any change is to be effective, it must move beyond the simplistic formula of bad politicians and good everyone-else and confront special and vested interests, from monks and military to professionals and privileged trade unions.

Are there other predators apart from politicians?

According to the latest IHP survey, while no political leader has a net favourability rating, in a general election, the NPP/JVP and the SJB will win a plurality.

Stirring oratory and pie-in-the-sky promises apart, how will a NPP/JVP or SJB government apportion the economic and social costs of recovery? The answer will depend mostly on how the tax burden is distributed. And on this seminal matter, the SJB and the NPP/JVP fudges at best. The SJB talks about reducing direct taxes for the uppermost bracket, while remaining silent about which income segment/s will have to pick the extra tab for that tax break. The NPP/JVP criticises the current imbalance between direct and indirect taxes, promises to correct it, but says nothing about how.

The reason is obvious. Neither party wants to anger those professional groups who are demanding tax cuts for themselves.

The demonstrating professionals are not saying they don’t want to pay higher taxes to fund such government waste as the silly Janaraja Perahara or the huge stable of cabinet, deputy, and state ministers. The government – any government – must be held to account about how public funds are used. But that is not what the protesting professionals are doing. They don’t want to pay higher taxes, period; irrespective of the identity of the president or the hue of the government. Their reasons have nothing to do with how government borrow and spend and everything to do with how they themselves have lived beyond their means. They too, like successive governments, have borrowed heavily to sustain an unsustainable lifestyle. They want to continue that lifestyle, even as the poorest of the poor are starving. That is the burden of their tax-song. And their tax song will remain unchanged irrespective of who sits in the president’s chair and who forms the government. What is Ranil’s headache today could be Sajith’s or Anura’s headache tomorrrow, if either leader achieves his presidential ambitions.

The Australian TV channel, ABC News did a feature on Finland’s education system. Arguably the best in the world, it is completely free. Not just the teaching, but also lunches, books, and excursions. Teachers are highly paid; teaching is one of the most sought after professions, and one of the hardest to get into. As a school principal told the interviewer, “Schools can’t raise private funds or to charge fees from parents. All schools are equitably funded from taxation” (

Finland has one of the highest direct tax rates in the world. And this high rate came into being not after the country became developed but before. From 1945 to 1951, when Finland was dirt-poor and war-devastated, about one third of public revenue was generated through income and wealth taxes. ( That money was used to build free health and education systems of the highest quality, which in turn helped the country to escape poverty without falling into the debt trap.

Taxation, argues Thomas Picketty, in Capital and Ideology, played the leading role in West’s economic triumph over the East. Based on a wealth of data, he points out that by the end of the 15th Century Oriental and Occidental powers were evenly balanced. The West took its great leaps upwards firstly from 1500 to 1800 and secondly from 1930 to 1980. Both were enabled by increases in tax income. Chinese and Ottoman empires declined because their tax revenues remained low. Japan was the only exception, Prof Picketty points out, with higher taxes being a major pillar of its Meiji reforms.

Taxation is not the only issue. The recent electricity hike which disproportionately burdens the poor was caused not only by political corruption but also by the wasteful way in which the CEB was run for decades. Wages for excess workers, bonuses despite huge annual losses, and other privileges all added up to push the unit cost of electricity sky high. Now more than half a million poor families might be pushed back into the kuppi lamp era in consequence.

State owned enterprises (SOEs) were supposed to rescue consumers from exploitative practices of private entrepreneurs. But in Sri Lanka, SOE officials and trade unions have themselves turned predator, preying on citizens. Several recent directives provide examples of how these groups battened themselves on public funds. One ended the practice of top government officials taking their official vehicles home at retirement. Another prevented officials from holding their retirement parties at state expense. A third directed all officials to travel economy class and not business. Are these unearned and unjust privileges only the tip of the iceberg? How come no trade union screamed about these high-way-robbery type practices? Is their silence indicative of a mutually beneficial understanding of the plunder-and-let-plunder variety?

 ]          When rulers are hegemonic, they transplant their own values and beliefs on to the society they rule; and by doing so successfully, they manage to maintain their moments of hegemony longer. From an addiction to unearned privileges to tax phobia, from anti-compassion to indecency, we are still Rajapaksa children.

During a recent parliamentary debate, when MP Rohini Wijeratne was speaking, a parliamentarian was heard scolding her in filth. The Speaker remained silent, during and after. Not a single opposition parliamentarian intervened to defend their colleague. This is what the Rajapaksas have brought the country down to. Unless the President orders the miscreant to apologise publicly (and removes him from his ministry if he happens to be the education minister), unless the opposition in one voice demands such action, then, even if the last member of the Rajapaksa clan departs politics, Sri Lanka will remain a Rajapaksa land.

Why elections?

Mahinda Rajapaksa is correct, for once. The real reason President Wickremesinghe scuttled the local government election was not economics but politics.

In 2020, the timing of the general election became a bone of contention between the Rajapaksa government and the Opposition. The government, knowing it was on a winning streak, wanted to hold elections as soon as possible, despite the pandemic. The Opposition, citing the pandemic, wanted the election to be postponed. The Opposition’s argument was more factual; having an election in the midst of a pandemic was risky. But the real reason the Opposition wanted a postponement was the fear of losing.

Now the opposition wants an immediate local government election because it believes it is ahead politically. The wisdom of spending so much money on an LG election in the midst of an economic devastation is not even considered. In truth, their much shouted fidelity to democracy is but a cover for power. If the SJB was clearly ahead and the NPP/JVP trailing way behind, the latter wouldn’t have been so averse to a postponement and vice versa. And Ranil Wickremesinghe would have found the money for the election somehow, if he thought the UNP could come first. This is how real priorities are decided. This is why Sri Lanka is unlikely to do better in the future than it did in the past.

Elections are necessary for democratic health. But democratic health cannot be reduced to periodic elections. Moreover, if there are powerful groups with vested interests who claim that they have the ultimate right in deciding how a country is run, a democracy’s health becomes precarious, with or without periodic elections. In many countries, it is the military which arrogates unto itself such political veto powers. In Sri Lanka, so far, it is the Buddhist clergy.

During their anti-devolution demonstration outside parliament, several monks argued that the president should not implement the 13th Amendment in full because the chief prelates are opposed to it. In a subsequent interview with a You Tube channel, two leading political monks, Ulapane Sumangala thero and Akmeemana Dayaratne thero reiterated the argument. The former said, “Even if the entire parliament agrees we won’t allow the 13th to be implemented. If 13th is given the country will become a lake of blood.”

Sri Lanka’s bloated military might become a threat to democracy in the future (especially if politicians continue their constant bickering, making an exhausted public turn to the Uniformed Man for salvation). The Buddhist clergy is an actual threat to democracy now. They insist on having the final say in every matter, from how much devolution Tamils should be given to how much sex education children should be taught. (The answer to both is none; no devolution, no sex-education, we are Sinhala Buddhists). The monks obviously think Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist Iran and they are the Sinhala-Buddhist ayatollahs. If every measure needs saffron sanction, why bother with elections or parliaments? Why not save a lot of money by asking the chief prelates to run the show?

Given the key role political monks played in Ceylon/Sri Lanka’s downward trajectory right up to the re-election of the Rajapaksas in 2019 and 2020, their undiminished determination to interfere in governance poses a real danger to the prospects of recovery. If political and societal leaders lack the courage to stand up to rampaging monks and other vested interests (civilian and military), what hope for the future, irrespective of which party comes to office and which politicians hold power?

To Overcome Economic Crisis, Sri Lanka Needs “Less Democracy” For Sometime

What to make of the mindset and approach of these politicians in Sri Lanka?   Is it their  case  that international intervention is necessary to ensure local body elections?

by N.S.Venkataraman 

Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe has suggested that local government polls in Sri Lanka  should be postponed, in view of the economic crisis faced by Sri Lanka. The government has explained the   difficulty in mobilising necessary funds to hold elections.  The Government Printer, too, informed that it was unable to print ballot papers due to lack of funds.

Instead of appreciating the issues and cooperating with the government, some political parties  and some activists in Sri Lanka are demanding that local body election should be held as per the schedule.  They are threatening to organise protests and launch agitation to demand elections.

The entire world knows that Sri Lanka is facing  unprecedented level of economic crisis , bordering bankruptcy The country is  facing  humiliating condition of having to ” beg”   for   loan from international financing institutions  and appeal to those countries which have earlier extended loans to defer the repayment schedule, so that Sri Lanka will not end up as a loan defaulter. 

In such circumstances,   Mr. Wickremesinghe  was  elected as the country’s President  in July 2022.  With long years of exposure  to political and economic scenario  in Sri Lanka and with reasonable level of personal   credibility, the President has been trying his level best to sail Sri Lanka out of the rough water and restore it’s dignity as a vibrant nation in the global arena.  The task is not easy, as the President has to start virtually from a scratch.

In such conditions, in a matured democracy, all political parties and citizens in various walks of life are expected to show understanding and support to the President, as the urgent task and challenge is to retrieve Sri Lanka from the brink of economic collapse.

Several elections have taken place in Sri Lanka in the past and delay of one more election for a few months in  such adverse scenario   should not be viewed  in any irresponsible manner as to state  that  “such attempts to prevent elections mandated by law represent an unprecedented attack on democracy and the rule of law and pose a grave threat to the electoral process in the future”

The ground reality is that democracy in any country can not thrive on  “empty stomach”.  Therefore, giving precedence to   exercise people’s franchise, at the cost of national economy which is on the brink   and is facing distress conditions impacting day today life of millions of poor people ,is  absolutely unacceptable and against the national interest.

The commitment of some politicians and civil society members and  the members of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka to   the  nation’s interest  and their capability to appreciate and understand the grim situation,  has created some doubts   about them, in the view of discerning observers not only in Sri Lanka but across the world. 

It is particularly disturbing to note that some politicians have written to Colombo-based diplomats seeking their intervention in ensuring the timely conduct of   local body elections.  What to make of the mindset and approach of these politicians in Sri Lanka?   Is it their  case  that international intervention is necessary to ensure local body elections?  Can there be more humiliating act for the people of Sri Lanka than such approach of such politicians who want global intervention in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs?

It is seen in many democratic countries that the politicians are not the best of people among the citizens and they occasionally cause havoc due to self centredness, parochial approach and sometimes even adopt  unethical methods to grab power.  In such circumstances, many thinkers  and political researchers  across the world are veering to the view that a controlled democracy will do world of good particularly to developing countries ,  in place of uncontrolled and chaotic democracy.

Today, if the elections were to be held in Sri Lanka, there would be acrimonious debates  , hate politics, corrupt  methods to win elections and perhaps even violence due to political clashes. These are the  possible developments that

Sri Lanka need to avoid at any cost. 

The focus of the country has to be on economic development  and economic development only. 

Sri Lanka has the most experienced person as the President and he needs time and support  to restore Sri Lanka’s glory.  This is the time for less democracy in Sri Lanka. If postponement of local body polls would mean less democracy, let it be so and it is in the interest of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka: Why not tax the informal rich rather than the formal poor?

While levying an income tax on individual earnings to supplement government revenue is a necessity to meet government expenditure, the issue in question is the perception and/or the reality of its unfairness and the lack of confidence and trust that people have about the way the tax they pay is spent by the government. There is no evidence that just and equitable approaches have been taken by politicians to address revenue raising and the curtailment of unaffordable expenditure in a systematic manner.

On the question of unfairness, many are of the opinion that there are a significant number of individuals who operate in a cash economy, with black and/or white cash, who either do not pay any tax or pay a minuscule amount by declaring an income far less than their real income. Big guns in this group are said to include some specialist doctors, architects, engineers, lawyers, customs officials, tuition teachers, and officials of the department of motor traffic among others. A report of a specialist doctor who charges a huge amount of money in cash per patient for a procedure that takes less than 15 minutes underscores the massive earnings of some and the underreporting of income by professionals and government officials, the latter category obviously making their money via bribes, depriving the government of much-needed revenue. There is anecdotal evidence of properties and luxury motor vehicles purchased for large sums of money, and extravagant expenditures incurred for weddings and other functions by individuals who apparently pay for these with cash.

On the same side of the coin of lost revenue, but on the corporate side, the Morning newspaper reported on the 13th of February that the government lost Rs. 560 mn in revenue due to tax concessions for listed companies in 2021/22.

Imesh Ranasinghe writing in the Morning stated that “the Government of Sri Lanka missed out on Rs. 560 million in corporate income tax in the financial year 2021/22 from 13 companies that enjoyed a 50% tax concession for being listed on the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) in 2021, financial statements of the listed companies revealed. As per the financial statements of the said 13 companies to which the concessions were granted for being listed on the CSE between May-December 2021, First Capital Treasuries PLC and Capital Alliance PLC recorded losses for the financial year 2021/22, while Lanka Credit and Business Finance PLC LOLC General Insurance paid deferred taxation charges. Some of the major companies that enjoyed higher taxation benefits include LOLC General Insurance PLC, which had earned a profit before tax (PBT) of Rs. 1.2 billion and had only paid Rs. 170.6 million under the concessionary tax rate after paying Rs. 413.5 million as taxes in 2022. Prime Land Residencies PLC had made a PBT of Rs. 1.8 billion and had paid Rs. 162 million as taxes from Rs. 289 million in 2020 and Cooperative Insurance PLC paid Rs. 97 million as corporate income tax from a PBT of Rs. 933 million after paying Rs. 260 million as taxes in 2020”. 

This example of loss of tax revenue from 13 companies may be the tip of the iceberg as there could be other companies, smaller and bigger, who have paid less tax although their revenue was higher and their profit before tax was higher, and companies which are unlisted who may have not paid or paid fewer taxes although their revenues and profit before tax were higher than previous years.

In the context of the individual and corporate situations noted, increasing income tax from those at the bottom end of the income/revenue scale cannot be regarded as a fair proposition. As per the International Monetary Fund, Government Finance Statistics Yearbook and data files, and World Bank and OECD GDP estimates, the tax revenue in Sri Lanka had dropped to 7.7% of GDP in 2020 from 19% in the 1990as illustrated in the graph below. The revenue in 2022 was reported at 7.6 % of GDP in Sep 2022. As the graph depicts revenue has been steadily declining since 1990

Economynext in an article state that quote “Sri Lanka has aimed at increasing tax revenue by 69 percent to fund government spending in the crisis-hit economy, but analysts say the 2023 budget failed to address core issues on excess spending and articulate strong policies on restructuring loss-making state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The budget has aimed at increasing tax revenue by 69 percent to 3,130 billion rupees next year from this year’s 1,852 billion rupees while bringing down the budget deficit to 7.9 percent in 2023 from this year’s revised 9.8 percent. The high tax revenue target comes as millions of Sri Lankans face the impacts of the ongoing economic crisis – 66 percent inflation, job losses, and shrinking disposable income, unquote.

These factors portend even more of a difficult period in the coming years as no one appears willing and/or able to take the difficult decisions that must be taken to yield an effective course correction that will take the country out of the economic mess it is in. However, the pain of such decisions cannot fall unjustly on ordinary people who are already in great pain, while some segments of society enjoy a largesse that is both embarrassing and unkind to those who are struggling to find their next meal.

The following table on tax revenue estimate and collection by tax type (2019) published in lankastatistics gives an insight into the contribution to tax revenue from different categories. As can be seen, value-added tax and income tax comprise nearly 90% of the tax estimated and collected.

 The value-added tax also contributes to the unfairness of tax because of its regressive nature. The Tax Policy Centre, is a joint venture of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution made up of nationally recognized experts in tax, budget, and social policy who have served at the highest levels of government.

A briefing book, states,because lower-income households spend a greater share of their income on consumption than higher-income households do, the burden of a VAT is regressive when measured as a share of current income: the tax burden as a share of income is highest for low-income households and falls sharply as household income rises. Because income saved today is generally spent in the future, the burden of a VAT is more proportional to income when measured as a share of income over a lifetime. Even by a lifetime income measure, however, the burden of the VAT as a share of income is lower for high-income households than for other households. A VAT (like any consumption tax) does not tax the returns (such as dividends and capital gains) from new capital investment, and income from capital makes up a larger portion of the total income of high-income households”.

If Sri Lanka is serious about an equitable and fair tax system, it needs a complete overhaul of the system and not patchwork changes at the behest of external agencies. The morally and politically bankrupt politicians and special interest groups may not wish for such an overhaul and the country would continue its debilitating slide into further trouble despite the best efforts of a few.

Firstly, if as suspected, a significant number of high earners are either not paying their fair share of income tax or not paying any income tax, that loophole needs to be fixed. There are measures that could be considered. The idea of levying a tax at the source could be considered for professionals who deal in cash payments. For example, unless a law exists, a new law could be brought in to make it compulsory that doctors see patients only in hospitals or certified medical or home practices, and that ALL cash or credit card transactions are recorded as auditable, legal documents. If patients are seen or treated at a hospital or a similar medical institution, the attending doctor SHOULD be paid by the institution and no direct patient transactions should be permitted. The hospital in these instances could be compelled by law to deduct a percentage of the doctor’s fee as a tax, with the doctor permitted to disclose this payment in their annual tax returns. A similar methodology could be adopted with some variations to other high earners by way of a registration process where and all such registered individuals are required to submit periodic returns to the Inland Revenue department.

Government officials who become high earners through bribe taking will be harder to rope in although in their case as well as in the case of professionals, strict asset tests conducted by the tax office, and also bank disclosures on ALL cash deposits over a given amount, plus a tax levy imposed when deposits are made, for deposits over a given value, could be some of the plugs that can be used to close loopholes. 

In all cases it is vital that penalties for violating existing and new tax laws are very stringent and they include jail terms and confiscation of assets including any unlawfully held cash assets in the name of the individuals. As suspected, if such assets are written in the name of relatives or friends of the individuals concerned, such persons should be called upon to explain and justify how they managed to acquire such assets.

Secondly, value added taxes needs to be revised and redress given to individuals when they purchase essentials. Instead, a tax overhaul could investigate increasing value added taxes for functions held in hotels and function halls. It is no secret that vast sums of money are spent on these functions. Many such spending is unconscionable and an affront to the hundreds and thousands of ordinary people who do not have money for their basic, routine meals. However, rather than focusing on the morals and ethics of such high spenders, as that would be more or less water off duck’s backs, charging a high value added tax would at least allow the government to support the most vulnerable with such funds. To the best of the writer’s knowledge, no surveys have been carried out to ascertain the revenue to hotels and function centres from such functions.

The tax office could undertake such a survey to ascertain the current and potential value added tax collection from such venues.A tax overhaul should naturally include corporate taxation and a re look at concessions provided and how a situation reported in the Morning newspaper described earlier could be addressed. CEIC Unlimited states the following

  • Sri Lanka Tax Revenue was reported at 6.562 USD bn in Dec 2021.
  • This is a decrease from the previous figure of 6.566 USD bn for Dec 2020.

The decline in tax revenue is shown in the illustration below. The corporate tax component and individual income tax component is not mentioned here, and this is something that needs to be examined to ascertain the contribution from the corporate sector and if the Morning article is to be taken as perhaps the tip of the iceberg, the potential loss of income tax from the corporate sector.

Clearly, it appears that there are some individuals who earn vast amounts of money but hardly pay reasonable income taxes, corporate earnings and profits are not consistent with taxes paid, there is no assessment of the income of some individuals who purchase high-value properties and other assets and whether they have fulfilled their tax commitments. On the other hand, successive governments seem to have and still are taking the easy way out by taxing wage earners.

If the country is serious about increasing its revenue base from taxes, it should engage in a complete overhaul of the tax system, strengthen the hand of the tax department by way of suitable legislation and introduce serious punitive measures to punish individuals and corporate entities who firstly do not declare their real income, and secondly who do not pay their fair share of taxes. The VAT system too should be revised in such a way that the most vulnerable are safeguarded from the regressive nature of the VAT system.

What is Politics all about in Sri Lanka?

For a Sri Lanka politician, for that matter any politician, what matters most is outcomes and delivery rather than process and ideology. But, to be successful, process must be married with energy, ideas, and political will of the Central Government.

The electorate will of course, give or willingly bestow time, most often, the benefit of the doubt, but no responsible Central Government can carry on regardless, without structural reforms, if it wants to survive.

We have seen this clearly in what is happening, or rather what has happened in the uprising of the people or the “aragalaya movement” that took to the streets in March 2022.

Can raising standards of living be indefinitely postponed?

Political theorists admonish that the performance of a truly national government cannot be separated from structural reforms if a Central Government has to survive. It looks that political reforms may be ‘flunked’ once again, as it has happened several times in the past 75 years, this time largely as a result of the Debt crisis.

Reports have emerged that the Government will be delaying an announcement on reforms, in fact, Local Elections until later after securing the IMF assistance package. (Déjà vu?)

Reports suggest that the President‘s favoured plan for funding reform – perhaps, a cap on military spending – faces two key objections from the Services. That the country can least afford, that it will cost too much in security concerns and that it may disproportionately benefit the enemies of the nation? Of course, the security of our nation comes first, but how long can the ordinary man on the street wait, when prices of essential goods and services, electricity tariffs are raised previously by 75% and soon by another 66% on the request of the IMF to secure the approval of its Extended Fund Facility (EFF). How long can we go on a begging bowl? Is it not time to cut unnecessary and extended expenses on anything and everything, that is now found when we are not on a war footing, to save our people from hardship for years on end?

Do these objections stack up?

First, let’s briefly remind ourselves how we got here. We got to the position we are in because of our vanity, and our wonton carelessness after 30 years of war. Can we really and economically afford a bloated service force the same as during a war? At the same time can we ignore the way how to secure our nation in peacetime?

Protection against any uprising in the future should not be ignored. How affordable is cutting the military’s budget? But, simultaneously, affordability shouldn’t be the only factor determining reform. Can the nation afford this cost of reform now and in the future?

Fundamentally, reform of the military services is to make it “fit for purpose for the 21st century,” which should be one part of the new system of security. Making this happen will require additional government time, planning and investment. But, reform of the military services is not unaffordable?

The Government can afford to provide a fairer and more generous society to live within its means and solve the debt crisis if we begin to live within our means. This is what is necessary, not further loans from the IMF to pay our existing loans.

The arguments are clearer and more logical. The question is the Government’s political will?

ChatGPT in Sinhala: How can you get me there?


As an AI language model, I understand the importance of developing a Sinhala version of ChatGPT. Sinhala is the primary language spoken by the Sinhalese people, the largest ethnic group in Sri Lanka. With over 16 million speakers worldwide, it is essential to have a Sinhala language model that can help combat the spread of fake news and misinformation while also aiding in research conducted by universities.

Developing a Sinhala version of ChatGPT will undoubtedly take time, as it involves training a machine learning algorithm to understand and generate human-like language in Sinhala. The process requires large amounts of data and computational resources to create a robust and effective model.

However, the benefits of such an endeavour would be immense. With the spread of fake news and misinformation on social media and other digital platforms, it is crucial to have reliable sources of information in local languages to combat the spread of falsehoods. A Sinhala ChatGPT could help ensure that Sinhala speakers have access to trustworthy and accurate information online.

Moreover, a Sinhala language model could also be beneficial to universities and other research institutions. Language models like ChatGPT can be used to analyze large volumes of text, extract meaningful insights, and help researchers understand trends and patterns in various fields of study. For instance, a Sinhala ChatGPT could be trained on medical research papers to aid in the development of new treatments for diseases prevalent in Sri Lanka.

In addition, a Sinhala language model could also benefit businesses and organizations operating in Sri Lanka. As companies increasingly seek to engage with local communities, a Sinhala ChatGPT could help improve their communication with Sinhala speakers and expand their reach into new markets.

Developing a Sinhala version of ChatGPT is an essential step towards combatting fake news and misinformation and facilitating research and innovation in Sri Lanka. While the process may take time and resources, the benefits of having a reliable and robust Sinhala language model would be far-reaching and impactful.

Certainly, developing a Sinhala version of ChatGPT could also have far-reaching effects on the education sector in Sri Lanka. By providing students with access to high-quality, AI-powered language tools, it could revolutionize the way they learn and interact with information in their native language.

Currently, the Sri Lankan education system is struggling to keep pace with the rapid changes happening in the world. Public education is underfunded, and private tuition has become an unregulated, monopolistic industry. As a result, students from lower-income families often struggle to keep up with their peers and have limited access to quality education. This has led to a growing inequality in the education sector.

A Sinhala version of ChatGPT could help level the playing field by providing students from all backgrounds with access to high-quality language tools. This could help improve literacy rates, aid in the acquisition of new language skills, and provide students with a better understanding of complex concepts.

Moreover, a Sinhala ChatGPT could also provide teachers with new resources to enhance their teaching practices. Language models like ChatGPT can generate engaging learning materials, assist with the grading of assignments, and provide instant feedback to students. By leveraging the power of AI, educators could create more personalized learning experiences for their students, increasing their engagement and retention.

Developing a Sinhala language model using ChatGPT is a next-level project that requires expertise in natural language processing, machine learning, and deep learning. Local universities in Sri Lanka have an abundance of talented individuals with expertise in these areas, who could contribute to the development of a Sinhala ChatGPT model. By harnessing the skills and knowledge of these experts, we can ensure that the model is developed to the highest standards and is well-suited to the needs of the Sri Lankan population.

To work on this project, universities and software experts can collaborate and form interdisciplinary teams to contribute to different aspects of the project. For example, one team can focus on collecting and preprocessing the Sinhala language text data, while another team can focus on training and optimizing the model. Working in teams can also help to identify and address any issues that may arise during the project and ensure that the final product is of high quality.

In addition, universities and software experts can also leverage their existing resources to support the development of a Sinhala ChatGPT model. This can include providing access to powerful computing resources, hosting workshops and training sessions to develop the necessary skills, and collaborating with other stakeholders to ensure that the model is widely adopted and used.

The development of a Sinhala language model using ChatGPT is a significant undertaking that requires the collaboration of experts in natural language processing, machine learning, and deep learning. Local universities and software experts in Sri Lanka have the potential to contribute significantly to the project and help ensure its success. By working together and leveraging their existing resources, they can create a Sinhala ChatGPT model that is well-suited to the needs of the Sri Lankan population and can help unlock the potential of the country’s language data.

In conclusion, a Sinhala version of ChatGPT could help re-engineer the public education system in Sri Lanka and curtail the monopoly playing by unaccountable tuition mafia. By providing students and teachers with access to high-quality language tools, it could help level the playing field and improve the quality of education across the board. While the development of a Sinhala language model may take time and resources, the potential benefits are enormous, and could have a positive impact on generations to come.

Sri Lanka: Wickremesinghe’s “Accidental” Presidency — From Agile to Fragile Democracy



“The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions and without becoming disillusioned.” – Antonio Gramsci

President Wickemesinghe’s accidental presidency was seen by many as a solution to the deadliest crises in the country and a way to bring about normalization. However, several of the key initiatives he had promised are still in limbo, and rhetoric has surpassed reality. As a result, people are being forced to compromise in order to survive daily, while those responsible for the economic turmoil remain at large. It’s no exaggeration to say that Sri Lanka’s sovereignty is at risk, as various actors disguised as protectors are plotting to interfere with the country’s internal affairs.

Sri Lanka has a long history of democratic governance, with its citizens enjoying the right to vote and elect their representatives. However, in recent years, the country’s democracy has been in decline, with the government under President Wickremesinghe accused of manipulating state institutions for political gain, postponing elections, and failing to build consensus with other political parties. As Plato says, “the price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”

One of the key indicators of a functioning democracy is the holding of free and fair elections, which allow citizens to choose their leaders without any interference or manipulation. However, Sri Lanka’s government has been accused of postponing local and provincial elections, which has led to a democratic deficit in the country. This has also contributed to a lack of accountability and transparency, as government officials are not being held accountable for their actions. In addition to using every possible trick to postpone elections, President Wickremesinghe has been accused of manipulating government institutions to promote his own political agenda. This is constantly eroding public trust in these institutions and undermined the rule of law. The lack of checks and balances has led to a concentration of power in the hands of a few individuals, which is a dangerous trend for any democracy.

Another critical issue is the failure of the government to initiate a national consensus among political parties. Without a shared vision and common goals, it becomes difficult to make progress on important issues, such as economic growth and social welfare. The lack of consensus has led to a situation where the government is unable to build consensus with other parties, which has further contributed to a democratic deficit. Moreover, the current government lacks a people’s mandate as it has been accused of obtaining the consent of a few politicians who were themselves accused of plundering the country. This has further weakened the democratic institutions in the country.

The current situation in Sri Lanka, where the government is facing accusations of undermining democracy, could have serious consequences for the country’s stability. Sri Lanka has a history of social unrest and armed struggle, which was triggered by similar issues that are being faced today. In 1971, an armed uprising led by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) was launched against the government of Sri Lanka. The insurgency was fueled by economic and social grievances, as well as a lack of political representation for marginalized groups. The government’s response was brutal, with thousands of people being killed or imprisoned. The insurgency was eventually suppressed, but at a high cost to Sri Lanka’s social and political fabric. Similarly, in the late 1980s, Sri Lanka witnessed another period of armed struggle. The government’s failure to address the grievances of the Tamil minority led to the rise of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The insurgency lasted for over two decades and resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of people, as well as the displacement of many more. The LTTE was eventually defeated in 2009, but at a cost to Sri Lanka’s social and economic development.

These examples show how the failure of democratic institutions and the erosion of public trust can lead to social unrest and even armed conflict. If the current situation in Sri Lanka is not addressed, there is a risk of history repeating itself. The government must take urgent steps to restore trust in democratic institutions and engage with other political parties to build consensus on key issues. It is important to note that Sri Lanka’s history of social unrest and armed struggle has had a devastating impact on the country’s development. The conflict has left deep scars on Sri Lanka’s social fabric and economy, and it will take years to heal those wounds. Therefore, it is in the interest of all Sri Lankans to work towards a stable, peaceful, and democratic future, which can ensure that the country does not have to suffer through similar events in the future.

Sri Lanka’s democracy has been on a downward trajectory for some time now. The government’s failure to uphold democratic values and institutions has led to a decline in public trust and a democratic deficit. President Wickremesinghe’s days are numbered, and it is time for him to step down, if he is expecting an honourable existence, and allow for a democratic transition of power. Only then can Sri Lanka restore its democratic institutions and ensure that its citizens enjoy the rights and freedoms that are their birthright.

Sri Lanka: Failure to open a Diaspora office


by Our Political Affairs Editor

What became of President Wickremesinghe’s proposal to unveil a Diaspora office during the independence celebration that was meant to open to the public at the same time? Despite its significance, why did this initiative fail in Sri Lanka, a country that is unlike any other?

The diaspora experience can involve a complex negotiation of identities, as individuals seek to adapt to their new surroundings while preserving their cultural traditions and ties to their homeland. As such, the diaspora can be seen as a space of both dislocation and continuity, where individuals and communities are constantly negotiating their sense of belonging and identity.

The presence of an office for expatriates in the host country is an essential element for the successful integration of expatriates into their new home country. It provides a platform for expatriates to access necessary services, connect with their community, and participate in the country’s economic and social development. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka has been unable to open its Diaspora office due to political disunity and personal agenda, despite the rallying together for the national interest. This failure highlights the need for political leaders to put aside their differences and prioritize the well-being of their citizens, both at home and abroad.

The Sri Lankan Diaspora is estimated to be around three million people, with a significant presence in countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. These individuals have left their homeland for a variety of reasons, including education, employment, and to escape conflict. Despite being away from their home country, many Sri Lankan expatriates remain deeply connected to their culture and heritage, and continue to play an active role in Sri Lanka’s economic and social development.

Furthermore, the absence of a Diaspora office not only hinders the Sri Lankan government’s ability to engage with its citizens abroad, but it also perpetuates the sense of distance and disconnection felt by the expatriate community. The Sri Lankan diaspora remains an important part of the country’s social and cultural fabric, and they have a deep attachment to their homeland. Despite being physically away from Sri Lanka, many expatriates maintain close ties to their family, friends, and community in the country, and they often feel a strong desire to contribute to the development of their country of origin.

A Diaspora office would provide a platform for the Sri Lankan expatriate community to connect with their homeland, participate in social and economic development initiatives, and contribute their skills, knowledge, and resources to the country’s growth. It would create a sense of belonging and inclusion for expatriates, who often struggle with feelings of isolation and detachment from their roots. Additionally, it would allow the Sri Lankan government to gain a better understanding of the needs and priorities of the diaspora community and address any concerns they may have.

It is crucial for Sri Lanka to recognize the significance of its expatriate community and the important role they play in the country’s growth and development. A Diaspora office would be a concrete demonstration of this recognition, and it would help to foster a stronger sense of national identity and unity. While there may be disagreements among political leaders, the need to establish a Diaspora office should transcend political affiliations and personal interests. It is time for the government to take action and prioritize the establishment of a Diaspora office for the well-being of its citizens and the country’s future.

However, the lack of an official office for expatriates in Sri Lanka has made it difficult for the Sri Lankan government to engage with its diaspora effectively. This has resulted in missed opportunities for trade, investment, and knowledge transfer. Moreover, expatriates have faced difficulties in accessing government services, such as consular support, visa applications, and property ownership, which has left many feeling disconnected and frustrated.

The reasons for the inability to open a Diaspora office in Sri Lanka are multifaceted. Political disunity and personal agendas have been cited as significant factors. The lack of political will to address the issue, combined with bureaucratic red tape, has further compounded the problem. While various political parties have recognized the importance of opening a Diaspora office, they have been unable to find a consensus on how to proceed.

This failure is especially concerning because the opening of a Diaspora office would not only benefit Sri Lankan expatriates but also the country as a whole. It would enable the government to leverage the knowledge, expertise, and resources of the diaspora for the country’s economic and social development. It would also allow the Sri Lankan government to connect with its citizens abroad, fostering a sense of national unity and pride.

The failure to open a Diaspora office in Sri Lanka highlights the need for political leaders to prioritize the well-being of their citizens, both at home and abroad. The Sri Lankan diaspora has the potential to make a significant contribution to the country’s economic and social development. Political disunity and personal agendas must not be allowed to hinder progress towards achieving this important goal. Instead, the government must come together to address the issue and open an official office for expatriates, recognizing the significant benefits it would bring to the country as a whole.

Sri Lanka: Is Mahinda Rajapaksa still bluffing?


The Most Venerable Mahanayake theras of the Three Nikayas (Siyam, Amarapura and Ramanna) wrote to president Ranil Wickremasinghe admonishing him not to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution two weeks ago, on February 2, as reported in The Island (‘Mahanayakes tell President not to implement 13A’/February 3, 2023). The Buddhist prelates reminded the president that his predecessors did not implement 13A fully because of the devastating consequences this would have on the country, and that the executive presidency was established to safeguard the people’s sovereignty. The Mahanayake theras warned him of public anger rising against him if he carried out activities that tend to weaken the central government. It is evident that the senior monks are aware of the current economic crisis that the country is going through. They understand that Sri Lanka needs the assistance of global powers to overcome these difficulties. However, they correctly point out that proposals that undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country must be rejected. According to The Island report, the Mahanayakes also told the president that the country as a whole.. ….”faced many difficulties during the war. The government must do more to develop the North and East and uplift the livelihood of people who faced the most damage. Politicians who come from those parts hold Cabinet posts and can do a lot to develop these areas. At such a time, fully implementing the 13th amendment will create confusion….”

Is this dabbling in politics on the part of the Mahanayakes? Absolutely not. They are just attending to the hallowed duty assigned to the bhikkhus of our country by a tradition that began 2260 years ago with the official introduction of Buddhism: to come forward/usually to offer advice to the ruler when the country, the people and the Buddha Sasana are in jeopardy. Sri Lanka is a Buddhist majority country. Countries that possess such a long unbroken history of the same spiritual culture are extremely rare. Doesn’t that imply something about the dominant cultural background of the country and the people’s beliefs and ideas about the living of life, worldly happiness, social obligations, spiritual fulfillment, and so on?  As the spiritual guides of at least 70% of the Sri Lankan population, they have a historic responsibility to advise the ruler when they realize that the interests of the people of the country (including non-Buddhists) are threatened as understood at present by a large majority of the population. 

The Maha Sangha are arguably the most democratic community of clerical men and women on earth. They are averse to totalitarian control of any kind (something hinted at by the president in the Buddha’s admonition to his followers “Be a lamp unto yourself” with which pithy quote he ended his policy statement, though its appositeness in that context may be in question). 

In their missive, the Buddhist hierarchs express their sincere concern about the need to address the current economic issues with special attention to the livelihood problems of the people of the North and the East who faced the brunt of the civil conflict. At the same, they urge the president not to carry out the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. (Though the Venerables didn’t mention it, the 13th Amendment was forcibly imposed on Sri Lanka grossly violating her sovereignty in 1987 in less than ideal, less than democratic circumstances as the older generation of Sri Lankans knew at first hand.)

While presidents, prime ministers, and governments come and go from time to time, changing their powers and policies as appropriate or otherwise, the Mahanayakes who are symbols of wisdom and compassion remain more permanent, like the sovereign state itself. However, hardly ever do they usurp a ruler’s role. The intrinsic secular nature of Article 9 (relating to Buddhism) of Sri Lanka’s existent republican constitution is something that Western observers, and even our own politicians including the nationalists among them do not or do not want to understand; the latter seem to be abysmally ignorant of the term ‘secularism’, and play havoc with it.  

Contrary to what people expected, in his ceremonial policy statement from the Speaker’s chair in parliament on February 8,  president Wickremasinghe did not seem to respond to the Mahanayakes’ earnest advice conveyed to him nearly a week previously, but he did so by implication, towards the end of his speech. Some of his utterances, probably, increased their apprehensions. He talked about having to take unpopular decisions. “I am not here to be popular!”, he said. Ranil Wickremasinghe can well say that since it was not because he was popular that he became executive president. He, as a would-be technocrat, can take unpopular decisions, as he thinks fit, in dealing with purely economic issues. But if his economic policies are based on wrong political decisions, it’s a different issue, where his personal moral values get tested (in spite of his indispensability at this juncture).

The president devoted the first half of his speech to dealing with strictly economic matters: Rebuilding the nation, foreign reserves, IMF negotiations, revival of tourism, economic reforms, etc. To properly handle these it will be helpful for him to keep in mind the concerns raised by the monks. For example, one of the worries of these leading monks, though not mentioned in the letter, relates to the preservation of the Buddhist archaeological heritage of the northern and eastern areas. The archaeological treasures connected with the history of Sinhalese habitation in the northern, north central and eastern parts of the island have been under threat for decades; some of them have been  deliberately destroyed, reburied, built over or falsely claimed by non-Buddhists.  There is history written on rock in the form of rock inscriptions right across the country from north to south and from east to west that bear witness to the presence of the Sinhalese throughout the island. Archaeological remains and sites are great tourist attractions, which means their preservation is economically very important, too.

Most of the other half is about establishing communal harmony.  President Wickremasinghe takes great pains to convince the Tamil and Muslim minorities about his determination to solve their problems. He had discussed with R. Sampandan MP in 1977 (i.e., 45 years ago) about how to resolve the Tamil ethnic issue. The time has come at long last for them to achieve their goal. Ranil had been made aware of problems of the Muslims by minister A.C.S. Hameed, presumably in the latter 1980s, i.e., 35 years ago. All sensible Sri Lankans appreciate Ranil Wickremasinghe’s desire to resolve minority problems, but he should remember that no politician has a moral right to disregard the human rights interests of the majority community.

While listening to the policy statement streamed live on February 8th, I felt that the president displayed less enthusiasm in talking about the problems that the majority community suffer from. It looked as though he thought those problems were less substantive than the ones that the minorities faced. His single apathetic utterance in this regard was: “The Sinhalese community is also facing issues of their own which require open discussion. We expect to recognize the communities that are marginalized in society especially due to caste discrimination”. This is tantamount to associating the caste issue with the Sinhalese instead of the Tamils, particularly those in the North, who are persecuted by religion sanctioned casteism. The caste problem among the Sinhalese – historically borrowed from Tamil Hindu culture – is very mild, confined perhaps to party politics and matrimonial occasions, and is fast disappearing. Tamil civil society activist Arun Siddharthan often mentions this problem among Tamils. Rear Admiral (Retd) Sarath Weerasekera MP said in Parliament recently stated that blood needed for blood transfusion in Jaffna hospitals was in short supply due to (Hindu religion based) caste discrimination and had to be donated by Sinhalese soldiers. Of course, how seriously the particular form of social injustice affects the Tamil society can’t have escaped the president’s attention.

Paradoxically, though, in stark contradiction with basic Buddhist teachings, caste distinctions are still observed by Sri Lankan Buddhist monks, who have divided themselves into caste-based nikayas, something initiated by the Siyam nikaya in unalterable historical circumstances in the 18th century. It’s an evil that the Mahanayakes could have corrected, at least decades before, had they been less worldly, and more devoted to the Dhamma, and more dedicated to the welfare of the Buddhist laity, and the society in general. At least now, they must bury these undue divisions among themselves, and unite as a single body and realize and demonstrate to the world what the power of the Maha Sangha is. This is urgent for the survival of the Buddha Sasana.

President Wickremasinghe expressed his determination for bringing in maximum devolution of power within a unitary Sri Lanka (not united Sri Lanka as he used to say in the past). How he can secure this is yet to be disclosed. The people must be wary, for the devil is in the details. He says quite correctly that reconciliation alone will not bring about economic development: people’s attitudes must change. (Of course, this should apply not only to the majority, but also to the minorities.) This is perhaps a reference to his decision to get Tamil diaspora entrepreneurs involved in the development of the war-damaged North, for which he will create a separate department. We remember that, even months before, diaspora representatives indicated their readiness to bring in foreign funds to ease Sri Lanka’s dollar crunch, but that was with the proviso that those funds will be utilized exclusively for the economic development of the North.  

During his closing words, president Wickremasinghe said: 

“,,,,,,,We are all bound to protect the State of Sri Lanka. Any citizen has the opportunity to democratically change Governments through the elections. However, no one has the right to create anarchy in Sri Lanka. Not any political party. Not any group.

“We cannot allow our motherland to become an economic or social colony. Anarchy cannot be allowed. No one who truly loves the nation will allow such a situation. We all should stand on the side that supports the nation and not that which is bent to destroy the country..”.

That is a kind of assurance given that the sovereign Sri Lankan state will remain whole; there will be no division of the country. Governments will be changed democratically through elections. This means that the sort of annihilationist anarchy that the chaotic medley of leaderless directionless political and religious desperados of the foreign funded, anti national, conspiratorial ‘Aragalaya’ will not be allowed. The president promised that his proposals will be implemented through the National Assembly of the Parliament. What better guarantee can be given than this that the kind of undemocratic coercion that forced the 13th Amendment on a hapless Sri Lanka in 1987 under a dictatorial president who had succumbed to undue Indian pressure will not be applied in the present situation?

If the 13th Amendment must be implemented in full, let it be implemented in that democratic way. But we know that the present parliament doesn’t have a legitimate mandate to achieve that end. The SLPP was returned to power with a near two thirds majority, having fought elections on the platform of ‘One country, One law’. It is still an SLPP government. So they do not have the moral right to pass legislation that is entirely opposed to the original rallying cry that brought it to power. To cut a long story short, it is only Mahinda Rajapaksa MP who can persuade the unelected, president by default, Ranil Wickremasinghe from using the sitting parliament to enact 13A in its entirety without consulting the public regarding it through a referendum or a general election. Of course, in the past, Mahinda Rajapaksa used to repeat that he’d offer a 13A+. But I thought he was just bluffing then. Now Ranil seems to have called his bluff. Almost all members of parliament including Mahinda Rajapaksa, except a small splinter group who have left the SLPP alliance, have expressed agreement to the president’s decision to execute the full implementation of 13A. So, legally, there is no obstacle to his plan. But it is undemocratic and immoral.

It is the conscientious assertion of a nation’s dominant moral values by the three branches of government in a democracy – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary – in their activities that saves that nation from collapse and disaster. In the final analysis, Mahinda Rajapaksa, former president and prime minister, despite his, perhaps, unmatchable past achievements, is responsible for the present unprecedented crisis, especially, the ruinous political chaos. Only he can put an end to it by putting the country before himself, if possible. He used to say that his  Priority Number One, Number Two, and Number Three was the same: the Motherland/the Nation. Let him redeem his lost honour and popularity, and also win back the love of the people he tried to serve. 

Most Venerable Mahanayake Theros, I would like to beseech you Reverend Sirs, in all humility and with the deepest respect, to please write to Mahinda Rajapaksa MP or summon him before you Reverends, to demand that he explain to the nation why he now supports a measure that is likely to prolong the suffering and insecurity of the people and to endanger the survival of the Buddha Sasana, and, if it is something unavoidable at this stage, how he is going to make the proposed change harmless. Please remind him that he was a former prime minister, president, and a minister for Buddha Sasana.